• Mariah Carey. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
As a life-long Mariah Carey fan who has also had to deal with the shame of mental illness for the past twenty years, I found her courage in coming forward as having bipolar disorder empowering and inspiring.
By
Tamar Chnorhokian

25 May 2018 - 8:38 AM  UPDATED 28 May 2018 - 9:38 AM

Pop legend Mariah Carey has revealed her struggle with bipolar in an interview with People Magazine. The singer told the magazine she had suffered the disorder since 2001 and, "Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear that someone would expose me."

As a life-long Mariah Carey fan who has also had to deal with the shame of mental illness for the past twenty years, I found her courage in coming forward empowering and inspiring.

Her songs have always given me strength in my darkest moments with schizophrenia. I sang My Saving Grace when they took me to the hospital in a police car, because I told my family I wouldn’t go. I listened to Hero as I lay in the narrow and cold stainless steel bed in the psych ward of Redbank House, Westmead. And I sung my heart out to Through the Rain when all my old friends snubbed me at Stockland Mall in Wetherill Park and whispered to each other, "There’s that freak."

As a life-long Mariah Carey fan who has also had to deal with the shame of mental illness for the past twenty years, I found her courage in coming forward empowering and inspiring.

When my psychiatrist diagnosed me with schizophrenia it felt like someone had violently shaken my body. But aren’t schizophrenics axe wielding psychopaths in shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS? For weeks I laid on my bed and listened to Music Box. Mariah’s lyrics reassured me that I would be okay. Every time she hit a high note, she cracked the heavens open and angels flew in my room to comfort me. It took me a long time to say that I have schizophrenia out loud, probably as long as it took Mariah to reveal she has bipolar disorder. And I most definitely did not reveal my illness to employers, afraid of discrimination, just as Mariah was afraid that it would ruin her career. 

After hearing about her mental illness, my memories of chasing Mariah from concert to concert suddenly came rushing back to me in a totally new light.

I got to my seat just as the lights dimmed. The buzz in the air sounded like a million butterflies fluttering. The spotlight shone centre stage and like a flower springing up from the ground she emerged in full view. Her curly honey-blonde hair was as big as her voice and her mini boob tube dress accentuated her ‘Legs of a Goddess.’ The crowd hollered, Emotions

That was the first time I saw Mariah Carey in concert. The lead up had been painful and shocking as I came to grips with my recent diagnosis of schizophrenia and the stigma attached to this mental illness – everything had felt like a figment of my imagination up until that point, but this was no fantasy, this was real. 

During that '98 tour, Mariah Carey also made an appearance at Miranda Westfield. Fans were lined up from 6am anxiously waiting to see her. She was due to come out on centre stage at 2pm. My friend Rebecca and I rocked up at the shopping centre an hour before. Rebecca reassured me that we’d get to the front of the line. 

"There’s no way," I said. "It’s packed. People have been waiting for hours." 

Rebecca always refused to wait in line. She relied on her good looks and charm to get her way. "Don’t worry, we will," she said and walked straight up to the security guard. "Come on, let us through." She shined her pearly whites and flipped her long blonde hair back. I was stunned when he opened the gate and let us in. "See, I told you." She winked. 

Her courage in speaking out has helped me to speak out too, because we shouldn’t be treated differently for having a mental illness. 

Fans were pushing and shoving anxiously as they waited for Mariah to appear. Then she finally came out and I was absolutely disgusted that she was wearing sunglasses. I didn’t come all this way to look at designer shades! I wanted to look in to her extraordinary brown eyes! I expected her to take the shades off but she said that she’d had a big night with a cute little giggle and kept them on. Next she said a few words about how much she loved Australia and then she was off the stage, walking around the barricades like she was Cleopatra, shaking hands with the fans that were clambering over one another to get close to her. In all the chaos, Rebecca had somehow pushed her way to the front of the barricade and she threw her thin arm over just as Mariah walked past, the tips of her fingers brushing Mariah’s elbow. "I touched her, I touched her!" she yelled. I tried to get to Rebecca’s side but I was being pushed back by a horde of lambs (Mariah calls her fans The Lambily), who were all singing, "Ma-ma-ma-riah" as they sparked a stampede. "Nooo!" I screamed out, "We belong together!"

In 2006 I was by myself at Madison Square Garden amongst a crowd of lively New Yorkers for the Hero tour. I was seated between two white chicks on my left and two black chicks on my right. I had a pretty good view and was happy that I wasn’t in the nose bleed section, but time goes by slowly when you’re by yourself. When Mariah finally graced us with her presence, I waved my arms like I had just been emancipated, and sang so loud that the white chick next to me changed spots with her friend. She was extremely annoyed – after all, she was there to hear the legend sing, not an out-of-tune Armenian from Western Sydney.

When I attended a Mariah Carey concert, her voice and soulful lyrics transported me to a world that was peaceful, uplifting and joyful. And this place was not a figment of my schizophrenia. This place was real – and represented the true power of Mariah’s voice.

After a fifteen-year absence, Mariah Carey returned to Australia and treated fans to an impromptu show in early January 2013. Then she returned the following year and performed as part of her Elusive Chanteuse World Tour. Yes, I was there singing along to all her songs, as dedicated as ever to her Vision of Love, her Emotions, her Music Box, her Daydream and Butterfly, Rainbow, Glitter, and Charmbracelet

During those times I was unwell, I’d watch MTV and think Mariah Carey was passing on a message to me: "Tommy and I broke up – meet me at Gloria Jeans, we’re gonna go egg his house." That was a figment of my schizophrenia. But when I attended a Mariah Carey concert, her voice and soulful lyrics transported me to a world that was peaceful, uplifting and joyful. And this place was not a figment of my schizophrenia. This place was real – and represented the true power of Mariah’s voice. 

So now it turns out that Mariah Carey is struggling with bipolar. Her courage in speaking out has helped me to speak out too, because we shouldn’t be treated differently for having a mental illness. Thanks Mariah. You will always be my baby.

Tamar Chnorhokian is Associate Director of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement. She completed a communications degree in writing and publishing at the Western Sydney University in 2004. Her debut novel was The Diet Starts on Monday and she has also worked as a columnist, journalist and freelance writer. She is the recipient of the 2016 Copyright Agency, WestWords Western Sydney Emerging Writers’ Fellowship and is currently developing her second work of fiction.

 

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